December 20, 2017

Searching the Obvious-Life Detours

I often wonder how guardian angels respond to what they observe, especially mine. I never thought about it until I began volunteering.

One day a young boy was brought into the Emergency Room after being trapped in a vehicle for hours, where he witnessed the loss of his family. Young, profoundly brave, and intuitive, he said: “Pray with me? I prayed with everyone in the car. My guardian angel was there. I am gonna hug him when we meet.”

That event occurred years ago, but it rushes to mind as I watch a family get into a vehicle and hear their plans for the day, their laughter. I remember and pray for their safety. I have started to call these moments of recollection a life detour. A detour is that moment when God lets me take an unexpected turn to arrive at the expected destination—for the rest of my life: a tangible memory of being in the presence of the Holy Spirit when the space around me was so full of mercy there was no room for any doubt of a “present help in trouble.”

In my rental car, I confirm driving directions on the GPS. It may seem strange to leave three hours early for a speaking engagement only a half hour away. However, this speaking engagement is at a university where I want to visit the library (and maybe the bookstore). I have plenty of time.

Forty-five minutes later I do not regret leaving early. The GPS failed to note road work. The once friendly “navigator voice” now repeats, “Rerouting.” Ahead, a sign: “DETOUR.” I take the turn and decide to pull into a gas station farther ahead and ask for help. I pray God will send me some help. I hear it: drizzle, then a downpour! Sigh.

As vehicles slowly move forward I see her on the side of the road, holding a broken umbrella, walking away from a vehicle with two flat tires. Visibility is poor, she may get hurt. As I get closer, the thought arrives: What if she’s praying for help too? I pull over.

Her name is Elise. She is grateful. Today is her first day at a new job. It takes us half an hour to reach the gas station. As we walk into the gas station’s “store” she asks: “Why did you stop?”

I lack an answer. But a life detour comes to mind. One day my mother, driving home from work, saw a woman stranded on the side of the road in the rain. My mother felt moved to stop and offer a stranger a way home. It was the right thing to do. Elise wipes away tears: “Tell your mother I am grateful. I was praying for someone to help me.”

That’s the thing about detours: sometimes you just remember them; sometimes you share them.

Minutes later, I have a napkin with a semi-legible map to my destination, and Elise has called for a tow truck. I glance at the slow traffic. Will the tow truck make it on time? I ask how far away we are from her work place. “Not far,” she says. “I know a detour; back roads get you to the university in minutes.” University? A new plan made, we are driving down a different road faster than any rerouting suggestions from a GPS.

“I feel like our guardian angels were working together,” says Elise. “I didn’t know if God had heard my prayer for help on that detour ramp.”

That’s the thing about detours: we never take them alone. In this life, we are guaranteed heavenly company and direction.

Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.